Book Review – In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto In the book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, author Michael Pollan commences his tale with a few straightforward words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. In his introduction, An Eater’s Manifesto, Pollan discusses how the dietetic wisdom that was passed down from older generations has been heavily tainted by “nutritional science and food industry marketing” (Pollan, 2008).
The first volume of the book entitled, The Age of Nutritionism”, delves into this problem and helps uncover the cause of today’s “nutritional confusion and anxiety” (Pollan, 2008). Nowadays, it is not uncommon to have “edible foodlike substances” displayed in every aisle of the grocery store with all products promoting some kind of nutritional benefit from their consumption. These dietary facts are often modified to showcase dietary benefits that are barely present in the food product, if present at all.
With such prevalent misinformation, today’s society has become so overly concerned with nutrient enriched food that people have either forgotten or are unaware of the importance of the fundamentals. Pollan further explains that humanity has become “a nation of orthorexics” meaning that people have developed “an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating” centred on the theory of nutritionism (Pollan, 2008).
Chronic diseases that have the highest death rate such as obesity, coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer, can be attributed to the “Western diet” which consists of “highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn, and soy” (Pollan, 2008).
In the second volume entitled “The Western Diet and the diseases of Civilization”, Pollan analyzes the shift in eating habits of today versus those since the discovery of agriculture and the industrialization of food. In the third and final volume entitled, “Getting over Nutritionism”, Pollan offers helpful recommendations to healthy eating and living. These simple, easy-to-follow tips are intended to: educate society on the dangers of misleading information from food industries and medical communities; and to steer people away from the Western Diet and back to the traditional ways of reparing and consuming food. Pollan suggests for people to refrain from shopping at supermarkets and choose local farmers markets instead. However, for those with no other option, he recommends they only shop from the peripherals of the store. Some other advice that Pollan offers is to “eat mostly plants, especially leaves”, “eat like an omnivore” and “be the kind of person that takes supplements” (Pollan, 2008). He also states that people who “eat according to the rules of a traditional food culture are generally much healthier than people eating a contemporary Western diet”.
This analysis is focused on the cultural traditions of food consumption where “eating is deeply rooted in nature – in human biology on one side and in the natural world on the other” (Pollan, 2008). People around the world have different relationships with food and eating. Pollan suggests that how different cultures eat plays a large role in what different cultures eat. He further proposes that American society, nowadays, has become a culture heavily focused on quantity and price rather than quality. Society has become so fixated on “low-fat” or “low-carb” options that they have failed to realize the true underlying issue of overeating.
The distinction between price and quality is often the deciding factor for most American families. As a result Pollan recommends purchasing quality foods in smaller portions thus developing the pay more, eat less ideology. I found that this book provided tremendously eye-opening content. This book offers an insightful perspective surrounding the relationship between people and food; proposes how society, in particular the American culture, can start choosing healthier food options that enable us to live healthy and enjoyable lives; while bringing back the joy of eating and preparing food.
I found his analysis of the history of nutritionism, the science behind what to eat and why, to be extremely informative. In particular, when Pollan discusses how the food industry develops food products heavily focused around the latest “fad” diets or so-called nutritional needs of society, it was enlightening to read his perspective as I often purchase items such as low-fat margarine over regular butter.
It is outrageous that the food industry fought for many years to get the “imitation rule” removed and when modified was allowed to state “that as long as an imitation product was not “nutritionally inferior” to the natural food it sought to impersonate [and] had the same quantities of recognized nutrients—the imitation could be marketed without using the word [imitation]” (Pollan, 2008). By keeping consumers misinformed about such imperative factors that impact to our daily diets has contributed to society’s vast health issues.
Moreover, the discussion about the differences between culture and food habits resonated with me because while I have lived in either England or Canada my entire life, my family lineage is from India. With this real-life example, I believe that Pollan is correct to assume the “certain cultures that consumed traditional diets based mostly on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic diseases” (Pollan, 2008). Nowadays, a large portion of Westernized societies base their food choices on price and quantity over quality; so-called nutritional content geared towards weight management than overall well-being; and convenience.
According to Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics, “in advertising and on supermarket shelves, [there is] fierce competition [in the food industry] for our food dollars” (Nestle, 2008). She states that the Westernized food industry is “food politics in action: watered-down government dietary advice, schools pushing soft drinks, diet supplements promoted as if they were First Amendment rights. When it comes to the mass production and consumption of food, strategic decisions are driven by economics—not science, not common sense, and certainly not health” (Nestle, 2008).
The role of innovation in sustainable development should focus on more “agriculture-based methods [of food production] that have been shown to prevent food waste, help resist climate change, and promote urban farming” (Nestle, 2008). What is most important is to provide innovative products and services that are centered on humanity and that meet the needs of the consumer. Pollan does an excellent job at analyzing the problem and developing solutions based on the needs of society, particularly in America.
The solution here is to revert back to the traditional way of consuming and purchasing food: local food grown by local people. Pollan encourages that people become members of a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) program or shop for fresh produce at their local farmers markets. This local food movement enables new and soon to be farmers to provide “environmentally sustainable agriculture [while] supporting their local community and growing food that directly connects them to the consumer” (Collins, 2011).
On the business perspective, CSA’s are part of “the Small Farm Movement that is growing across Europe and North America” and farmers start off by selling their products at “local farmers’ markets to test out what products the consumer is looking for, followed by building clientele and launching into a CSA” (Collins, 2011). In order for CSA’s to succeed as a sustainable innovation, farmers must understand the importance of truthful marketing and fostering relationships with their customers as the most important part of the business model.
References 1) Pollan, M. (2008). In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Retrieved from: http://ebookbrowse. com/michael-pollan-in-defense-of-food-an-eater-s-manifesto-pdf-d341084275 2) Nestle, M. (2008). Food Politics. Retrieved from: http://www. foodpolitics. com/food-politics-how-the-food-industry-influences-nutrition-and-health/ 3) Collins, D. (2011). Community Supported Agriculture – A Unique Business Model. Retrieved from: http://www. omafra. gov. on. ca/english/crops/organic/news/2008-12a2. htm